Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Night in Nam with Jesus

I don’t typically talk or write about Vietnam, I’d just as soon forget it. I was going to include this account as a chapter in one of my books and talked myself out of it both times. But I’m comfortable enough now, in my waning years, to recount an episode that if nothing else reaffirms my atheism. This isn’t a war story.  I don’t do war stories.  This is a Jesus story.

From my first days in country, and after being assigned to my unit, I heard the phrase: “Charlie owns the night.”  Our ground forces…Army, Marines, South Vietnamese Army, Aussies, and assorted other allied troops ...we ruled the day light hours. But Charlie, the Viet Cong irregulars, Charlie flourished in the darkness. 

This idiom was in the back of my mind when a week or so into my tour my squad was sent out on ambush.  Ten or twelve of us, lead by our sergeant, were going out beyond our forward firebase’s concertina wire and set up before darkness in a likely spot, perhaps a path through the jungle, or a natural opening.  There we’d settle into position, an L-shaped configuration usually, in the hopes of surprising Charlie, the Viet Cong, as they moved through the darkness…catching him off guard, blowing claymores, and raining down shit on him.

Leaving our rucksacks and steel helmets behind, we wore only our soft boonie hats, ammo bandoleers, combat suspenders and pistol belt with a canteen, extra loaded magazines and fragmentation grenades; rifles, an M-79 grenade launcher, extra belts of ammo for our machine gunner, some claymore mines, and a PRC-10 radio (phonetically referred to as the “Prick”).  For my first ambush I was picked as the radio man.  

We should have already pushed off. It was getting close to dusk, and you don’t want to be humping the boonies in the dark.  But we were waiting for “Doc”, our medic.  He showed up 20 minutes late, reeking of weed. We pushed off.

We were about a klick, a 1000 meters, outside the wire when darkness started to close in.  The sergeant took point and following his nose he lead us through tall elephant grass looking for a place that was close by and advantageous for the ambush.

As he came around a curve in a trail, which we wouldn’t have been on had we left earlier and it had been lighter, he shouted “HALT!” (an involuntary ejaculation I suspect since shouting halt in the jungle is not SOP and rather absurd), and immediately opened up with his M-16.We would later find out we had walked head on into a unit of  North Vietnamese regulars, exact strength unknown.

In what seemed to be an instant hundreds of green hornets were streaming over our heads (they shoot green tracer rounds to track and adjust their rifle fire, we use red). The stream of  bullets were cutting the tops of the elephant grass over our heads as we all struggled to get on line and make ourselves as low to the ground as we could, then lay down return fire in the direction of the enemy.

The guy next to me wasn’t firing.  He was mumbling something I couldn’t understand between all the shooting and my sergeant yelling orders at the top of his lungs. 
“Gimme the fucking Prick!” That was my queue to crawl over to the sergeant with the PRC radio.

It was about fifteen yards but felt like a mile.  When I had almost reached him I realized I couldn’t find the handset to the radio. I started to panic until Doc, mildly bemused in spite of the shit storm all around us, gestured to me that the handset was attached to the radio and was trailing behind me on the handset cord. Oh…yeah!  The sergeant snatched the radio and started calling in artillery support from our firebase.  I crawled back to my position next to the mumbling kid.

He was still mumbling, and hadn’t seemed to have fired a shot as evidenced by there being no empty magazines around his position. Then I heard it. In between my changing magazines and over the din of the shooting I could hear “…who art in heaven hallowed be…”.  He was praying to Jesus….and crying. 

In short order our artillery was dropping high explosive shells about 75 to 100 meters to our front, and lighting the sky with flares…better for us to see any enemy movement. Eventually the enemy fire stopped. We set ourselves up in a tight perimeter in the event we were being flanked and to fend off any attack.  None came.  It got quiet.  No one slept. The kid next to me was still praying in between sobs. I must have heard “Jesus” mumbled in his southern drawl about a thousand times that night.  I came to hate that kid as much as the word “Jesus.”  The next morning the NVA were gone. We counted three NVA bodies; took their weapons and their assorted effects, and made it back to the fire base.

The praying kid was transferred to another platoon. Three or four months later he was killed in action.

I always wondered about that night.  About what would have happened if every guy on the squad was praying and not focused on returning fire. About if that kid thought the reason he survived, that we all survived that encounter, was owing to his prayers and Jesus, and not because of ten or eleven other guys doing their duty, the sergeant’s cool head and experience, and the artillery support. I also wondered if, when he was killed, he was he still praying and not returning fire; if he may have contributed to his own demise…and the deaths of two other guys in that later action because of his dependence on his nonexistent God.

I’ll never know the answers to those questions.  I still wonder about it, almost a half a century later. But I know one thing for sure - that Jesus and any other imaginary friend - is worse than useless in battle.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Inventing the Ideal Religion

The Huffington Post has an article that asks:
             "If you could invent a religion what would it look like?"

I gave the concept a minute's thought and posted the following to the article's comment section.  I think I have it reasonably  well developed, albeit, any such religion that would have me as a member I'd want no part of.

What would my religion look like?

One that sucks the money out of the poor and ignorant; that sells them a promise of eternal torture after they die if they don't believe; one that promises prayers will be answered, as long as it isn't to end starvation, or war, or disease, or re-grow an amputated limb.

A religion that hides its abuses of children; that amasses great amounts of money and real estate and sets itself up in a palace, or ten bedroom mansion with a swimming pool and 100 acre compound in the country, with private jets, expensive cars - and that promotes itself as a follower of an impoverished wandering carpenter ...or plumber.

One that dismisses women as lesser beings, who need to have their reproductive system controlled by men. A religion that condemns people to second class citizenship because they love someone the religion doesn't approve of. One that says masturbating is a sin...and God is watching you while you do it.

A religion that promotes the idea that the End of the World is a good thing, something to be looked forward be worked toward. One that demonizes the other religions, and establishes the people of a specific religion as scapegoats based on a 2000 year old mythical execution.

One that says every child is a sinner, because a mud man and a rib woman ate a fruit, and thus need to be cleansed...even though it claims to have paid for that sin in sacrificial blood. A religion that claims to have the one TRUTH, and yet has over 30,000 sects and denominations because it can't decide exactly what that precise "truth" is.

A religion that says only God can end the world, thus encourages people to ignore the science that says the world is being slowly poisoned to death. One that tells children a boogie man created the universe as per scientifically ignorant nomadic goat herders and to pay no attention to the realities of science. One that has no ability to understand why there are both monkeys and humans, even when you explain it's for a similar reality as to why there are still Europeans AND Americans from whom they descended.

Yes...this is the religion I'd invent, and ..... Oh...Wait...

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay? It's, like, incredible." –Donald Trump, speaking at a rally in Sioux Center, Iowa as the audience laughed, January 23, 2016

Dear Reader,

If that insane comment made by an obviously narcissistic sociopath can be laughed at and applauded by GOP supporters who deem him qualified to be President of the United States - some of whom may live next door to you - doesn't frighten you, perhaps the fact that he's probably right should.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Two days of Madness and Hate and The Straw that Broke the Camel's Patience

I don't know what to think anymore. There was a time when reason prevailed, when diplomacy was always the first course of action, when the GOP warned against the rise of the Military Industrial Complex, and who, like Eisenhower, had nothing but disdain for war and who, like Goldwater, warned of the religious fanaticism that was creeping into their party.  They were, it seems, ignored.

Something is very wrong.  For years now the drum beat of the GOP has been for more war. "Bomb bomb bomb....bomb bomb Iran." McCain sang when he was running for President ...and he's singing it again now. McCain has never met a war he didn't love. And while it pains me to say it, being a combat Vietnam veteran, I wish he had come home in a body bag - he'd have better served his country .

Now  Allen West, an Uncle Tom Right Wing fanatic is decrying the fact that those ten captured sailors who floated into Iranian waters didn't fight to the death ...  and that the insult of that video Iran released is defamation of our honor and thus worthy of war.  Here's an excerpt of his blog:

“This, folks, is an act of war, and our soldiers were captured. Our honor calls upon us to fight, to resist, not surrender. The ramifications of not doing so means our honor is now being mocked and we’re seen as nothing more than cowards on our knees."   **

The GOP presidential candidates are falling all over each other declaring Obama's weakness by negotiating the freedom of five Iranian held US captives for the release of seven Iranian/US citizen's being held for non-violent offenses.  They are all declaring Obama everything from "feckless" to "traitorous" and the comments on Right Wing blogs and media sites by the FOX News sheep are virtually calling for the death of Obama and War with Iran.  It is insane. 

Every New Hampshire GOP primary advertisement by Cruz, or Trump, or Christy, or Rubio espouses that our military is weak, that it has been degraded by seven years of Obama's neglect; that they will be the ones to "rebuild' it to better intimidate our enemies..and instill fear in those who might be our enemies someday. The code phrase is "to Make America Great Again." For surely only then can we be safe.  NEVER MIND the fact our military spending is, and has been for decades, higher than the next ten largest nations'  armed forces combined ....including China and Russia... we just aren't spending enough to intimidate it seems! 

Look, I've tried  to keep this blog focused on atheism and anti-theism.  I've occasionally mixed politics in with it, mostly as it relates to the Religious Right's grasp on the GOP. But it has gone beyond that now.  These episodes over he past two days have broken the camel's to speak.  So let me say it clearly:

I despise the GOP, everything they stand for, and everyone who supports them. If any of my readers support the madness I described above,  if any of them decry Obama's diplomacy, his efforts to avert another Middle Eastern war quagmire and impair Iran's nuclear ambitions; or if any of them are livid over his ability to our get sailors freed under 24 hours without firing a shot, or loss of life on either side; and gain the release of five US citizens who were suffering in Iranian captivity.. then do me a favor unsubscribe from this blog.

You see, I left the GOP some years ago realizing that --- The Party of Jesus, The Party of War First, The Party of Fear Mongering,  The Party of Israel or Die, The Party of Mindless Nationalism, The Party of Gun Ownership Absolutism, the party of extremism, homophobia, racism, of financial privilege, of demonizing of the poor  --- no longer represented me or my ethics.  I want no discourse with those I left behind.  I want no false patriotic platitudes.  I will entertain no justifications for what I deplore, because there can be none among the thinking.

If you hold fast to those principles of hate, and war, and racism, and homophobia, and misogyny, and class privilege et al -  then our shared atheism is insufficient reason for me to either respect your positions or tolerate you.   Go forth - send your sons, or grandchildren to die in the glorious service of nation building, or mindless anger, or for our national honor that Mr. West so deeply urges. But do so silently. I don't care to hear your cries of mourning.

**Read West's blog story here: